NORTH FORSYTH — Forsyth County is a terrible place to live — for sex offenders.
Sheriff Duane Piper has made it a priority to check in on them to ensure they’re not violating the terms of their probation. His deputies are eager to follow those orders.
“All of us are dads and we all live in the county,” said Deputy Rich Wiggins. “Our kids’ safety is paramount.”
In addition to monthly checks to verify address, employment and other routine information, deputies from the office’s ProActive Community Enforcement and Criminal Investigations Division perform random searches at the homes of those who waived their Fourth Amendment rights as a condition of serving parole instead of jail time.
Two teams of deputies and parole officers went out Wednesday night on a random search of six homes.
They made three arrests, including one man whose probation started in 2004 after serving five years for statutory rape in Cobb County.
As a condition of parole, the man wasn’t allowed to possess alcohol, which deputies found in his north Forsyth home. They also discovered some suspected marijuana, which led to an additional charge in Forsyth County on top of violating his Cobb parole.
Wiggins came out of that house smelling like an ashtray. The next stop on the list smelled like dog urine, yet the third home was by far the worst.
“It was so nasty inside, it was hard to dig for anything,” said Wiggins, noting that cockroaches swarmed across the floor and tarp covering the garage, which was being used as a bedroom.
After deputies doused themselves with a can of fabric freshener, it was onto the next home.
Cindi Thacker, with the sheriff’s office sex offender registry unit, said the county has more than 120 registered sex offenders. About 20 of those are incarcerated and more than 60 are on probation.
During monthly searches, Thacker said she keeps a close watch on all sex offenders who spend time in the county, including those from elsewhere who work in Forsyth.
“I’ve got to know who is in my county and whether they live here or work here,” she said.
A 17-year employee of the sheriff’s office, there’s not much Wiggins hasn’t seen during these visits. And the searches have become more intense as authorities look for everything from drugs and alcohol to pornography and adult toys.
They’ll also search cell phones for unauthorized Internet access and computers — even memory cards, which was where a deputy found pornography in another home Wednesday night.
“We’ll search drawers, mattresses, closets — it can be anywhere,” Wiggins said. “We don’t break anything. It can be in the shed in a tackle box. It never ceases to amaze me where they’ll hide something.”
Wiggins said he always looks behind hanging photos and paintings for a safe, but it’s usually not that easy.
Often when the unit comes knocking, it takes a while for the resident to answer. They may have the TV on too loud, or could be flushing drugs down the toilet. Either way, Wiggins said, those are the homes that get searched more thoroughly.
“This isn’t the county for a sex offender to live in because we check on them all the time,” Wiggins said. “This lets them know they’re being watched.”